When Master Gardeners Break the Rule and say they’re Master Gardeners

Master Gardener Clinic at a local Farmers Market
Master Gardener Clinic at a local Farmers Market

Not long ago we had a lively discussions here (145 comments!) in answer to the question:  What do we think of Master Gardeners?”  Much of the criticism of the MG program was focused on the name, and several commenters opined that “Extension Volunteer” would be more accurate and cause less resentment from others in the gardening world.

Well, we have a follow-up!  I received an email complaining about two Illinois Master Gardeners identifying themselves as such on the Directory of Garden Coaches.  Here’s the email:

I am the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Coordinator. I was just referred to the Garden Coaches website and I noticed that several of the Illinois coaches list that they are Master Gardeners. This is in direct conflict with our mission at the University and I am requesting that you remove those designations from your website for Debbie Notaro and Linda Tyson. I will contact them individually but as creator of the site you should be aware that all states have similar policies and Master Gardeners are not allowed to use their title in any form of commercial advertisement ( see below). I have read your garden rants about Master Gardeners and disputing those ideas are not the reason for my email. I am just hoping that you will be caring enough to respect the Cooperative Extension Service and the land grant universities and have these titles removed. I am certainly in favor of these folks marketing their skills and making a living- but NOT by using the title of Master Gardener.

From our policies:

“A Master Gardener should not display credentials or give the appearance of being a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener at a place of business unless that place is conducting an authorized University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener activity. It is improper to imply that University of Illinois Extension endorses any product or place of business. Master Gardeners must not use their title in any form of commercial advertisement. The Master Gardener program is a public service program established to provide unbiased information, and the title “Master Gardener” is to be used only when conducting unpaid volunteer work in the program.”

Please consider my request which is made in good faith.

Regards, Monica

Dear Monica, I DO take the request in good faith, but as to whether I’m “caring enough” to have the titles removed?  It’s complicated.

1.  I did indeed co-initiate the Coaching Directory (with Jean Ann Van Krevelen) and am listed as “founder” but I’m not responsible for anything written on it by individual coaches.  It was Jean Ann’s suggestion to use a website program that allows coaches to have control of their individual entries, and that’s enabled us to be hands-off.  Thankfully.

2.  Anyway, I’m not sure I support the rule prohibiting use of the term MG on a bio seeking work.  What’s the purpose, exactly?  To avoid the appearance that the university endorses some product or other?  Like when the garden manager at my local Lowes told me how great the Scotts multi-step stream pollution lawn fertilization program is and to drive home his endorsement, told me he’s a Master Gardener?  Yeah, that’s bad.  On the other hand, what harm does it do when garden coaches inform prospective clients that they’re Master Gardeners?

3.  Seems to me the problem here is that misnomer of a term.  I doubt that the Lowes manager would have claimed status as an Extension Volunteer in order to bolster his endorsement of Scotts.

But let’s hear from the two offending garden coaches, found  here on the Illinois garden coach page.  Linda Tyson wrote:

Personally, Susan, I think this rule s*cks. What are we some kind of secret society or something? Yes, Monica contacted me, and I removed the MG reference, sent her an email to let her know it was gone. I think it’s ridiculous that we aren’t ‘allowed’ to mention our work with Extension in our professional credentials and I think the argument about the University having some involuntary ‘endorsement’ of us by simply stating we volunteer our time as Master Gardeners (essentially what my reference to being a MG stated,) is ridiculous as well. They lose a lot of good volunteers over this (to me) silly rule. I’m not big on rules to begin with, and this one is take it or leave it. If you don’t bow to it, you’re out. I don’t agree, but if/when I decide to leave I’d prefer it to be on my terms, so I took the MG reference out. Now it just says I volunteer my time without saying with what organization. (I plant flowers for the CIA. Shhhh . . . it’s top secret.)

I’ll add one more thing – I don’t understand how they can be concerned about any sort of endorsement. Makes about as much sense as a university telling people not to include where they went to school on their resumes for fear of the public thinking that constitutes an endorsement. MG experience is valid experience and should not have to be kept secret.

And from Debbie Notaro:

Susan, While I would think that the University of Illinois would have better things to do and more important issues at hand to complete their mission, I will say this.

I am a former master gardener of an extension. I earned my certification from the University of California, when I lived in California from 2001-2005. I have over 1,000 service hours on my record. I chaired the first Contra Costa County wide Garden Walk, which raised thousands of dollars for the extension and U of C published 3 papers I wrote on their website. They still use the model of the garden walk and in fact mentioned me in their newsletter last year for the record number of service hours I had volunteered. I am very proud of my time served with the Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County and have many fond memories of the gardeners I worked with there. [Lots of praise for Extension services deleted for brevity.]

Just as you would use a degree in Horticulture from any university in the country as a part of your biography; the master gardener program is an educational advantage to gardeners who take the time and effort to complete classes, pass exams, and complete their certification by answering the hotline questions and volunteering their time for a certain amount of hours per year. This designation or qualification does not miraculously disappear when you leave the extension any more than your degree would after you graduate college.

While I am not an active member of the extension service here in Kane County Illinois, I still do everything I can to educate the public and private clients about gardening. [Examples omitted for brevity.]

In more recent years I’ve earned certifications as a Horticulturist and Landscape Designer and achieved much beyond the master gardener program educational requirements itself. I am still most proud of earning that designation. It is a portion of who I am and what I believe in. It is how I approach clients and the general public when speaking or writing. The term master gardener denotes an experienced and educated gardener who has attained more knowledge than the average person about gardening. I would liken it to a carpenter or plumber… most people can do simple repairs, but call a certified and educated carpenter or plumber, who also by the way carry a designation of master, when they have an issue beyond the average homeowners expertise.

The university systems have a worthy program. I am a huge fan and supporter. However, the term master gardener to my knowledge is not trademarked or copyrighted. I would think that the extension services would be proud of members’ current and former affiliation with the university program… it seems that is not so at least in Illinois.

All of the ‘master gardeners’ I have known in my life across the country, whether affiliated with a university or not, have through their own effort and practice mastered the art of gardening through education and experience.

My experience with the master gardener program in California is as much a part of my education as my certifications following it. It will remain on my resume. It is part of who I am and what I’ve done to accomplish life goals for myself.

So readers, what do YOU think of the rule and the enforcement thereof?


  1. If you sign up to be a Master Gardener you also sign up to abide by their rules (which is why I am not a Master Gardener).

    I think the term is a bit of a leap. “Master”Gardener? Really? I am not trying to diminish what a person learns and does to become a master Gardener. Still, to be a “Master” at any trade or study speaks to a level that few people actually reach that are in the program.

    “Extension volunteer” actually fits what folks really do in these programs. Outside the program they may rise to the level of “Master Gardener”, but who decides when you become a Master?

  2. I agree with Trey’s comment. I’m a Master Gardener and went through our program. I do volunteer work in our community but do not publicize myself as a Master Gardener. Or I try not to. Sometimes its impossible to avoid. People ask questions and once they know they know. I disagree with the rule but since I agreed to abide by it that’s the deal.

    To be called a Master Gardener is a bit more glamorous than it really is. The program I went through was good and I think it’s necessary for training people to do volunteer work for the University Extension programs however the use of the term “Master” implies a great amount of knowledge and experience, more so than most Master Gardeners achieve.

  3. Degreed in horticulture & engineering HGTV listed me, of their own accord, as a landscape architect in show credits on their website. I had no idea they did it. Nor did I give them such information.

    Received a nastygram, aka email, from a landscape architect ‘friend’, to get it taken off or be sued, by her.

    I contacted HGTV with a request to remove the wrong info. Kept the request but did zero follow-up. Metaphor is the same with master gardeners. ASID has same issues……

    Did you read the vitriol about Monty Don, from garden centers, in the English papers? He said, on his tv show, not to plant yet…too cool. Garden centers are blaming their bad sales on him. Seriously.

    This is where we have arrived. Gardeners cannot tell the truth. Have not seen Don’s response yet.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  4. as a Master Gardener coordinator when introducing the program to new trainees, i emphase that we are volunteer educators in home horticulture under our state landgrant university and that when signing the policy statement the individual is agreeing to abide by those items. WE do not know all the answers but we know where to find the researched information. Have been with the program 15+ years and i learn something every day and i love that

  5. Wow. I’m a journeyman carpenter ( 23 years experience) and a journeyman stone mason (16 years experience). I make much of my living in client’s gardens from those two trades, but I’m nowhere near ready to describe myself as a ‘master’ at either trade. More, I have a degree in horticulture, have managed an organic farm, been trained by the extension as an IPM scout (more intense than MG training), have a backyard nursery, have run a gardening business for 21 years, write and speak about gardening extensively and I Might Not object if someone described me as a “master gardener.” Maybe.

    So, I’m sure the two garden coaches mentioned above are nice people, hard-working, well intentioned, etc. But when one claims that their MG training and some certifications and their experience qualifies them as a “master” in line with master carpenters and other tradesman–well, just color me dubious. I think many of the people lightly tossing the term “master” around, may not really know whereof they speak.

  6. As a graduate of a land grant university (NCSU) and in the interest of accuracy and transparency in marketing, I ask the extension folks to change the name to “Extension Volunteers.”

    Otherwise, why on earth would you want to have numerous competent (and articulate) hort professionals educating the public that MG aren’t all that some of them purport to be?

    I have met many nice, helpful Extension Volunteers, but I have never met one that had genuinely earned a master’s ranking in gardening.

  7. I agree with the comment that if you agreed to abide by their rules then you must do that. Things get complicated however, when a person completes a Master Gardener program which did not have that rule (CA) – and then move into an area where the Master Gardener program does have the rule (IL).

    I completed a Master Gardener program at the local nursery – not the extension office or university. And, the fact that other entities have started sharing gardening knowledge further complicates the landscape. (pun!) No volunteer work was required for me but I had to complete a 600 page permaculture manual with practical hands-on in the nursery.

    Until some entity registers the term Master Gardener (trademark or copyright) I think that anyone can bestow the title onto themselves – even after only reading a gardening book.

  8. While I tend to agree that the automatic appellation of “Master” after finishing a few basic courses is a bit silly — to to mention inaccurate, it seems to me that the extension services have essentially “broken the contract” as soon as they started charging hefty fees for the initial and subsequent course materials and training.

    Having said that: if I were running the program, I would also charge fees to offset the program expenses. If for no other reason (And there are many other reasons . . .), human nature dictates that unless you have some “skin in the game,” there is a strong tendency not to place much value on what you have received.

    However, it has always been my understanding that “the contract” was that in exchange for the Extension Service training, volunteer services hours were “required” as a form of compensation for the “debit.” When one has to fork over a couple hundred bucks just to start the process, it seems to me that the understanding and agreement has been materially modified.

    There are some wonderful MG’s and there are some that – shall we say – operate under a less rigid standard. Magically, there also seems to be a direct correlation between the high performance individuals and the cheap-skates. Those who really value knowledge are willing to invest in their mind. Those who simply feel the need to impress others with a MG title are usually the ones bitching about wanting everything free — and this has absolutely nothing to do with income levels.

    Those who truly value knowledge know that it does not come free: whether by coin or a continued commitment. The moochers in life will suck the juices out of anything they encounter.

    Dan Mays
    Master “Flinger” (Yes . . . I’m that good!)
    Buffalo Chips On the Prairie Floor

    • This was my thought when I read the article. When I was talking to a Master Gardener at a booth, she told me all about the program and gave me a brochure. After paying about $150 and 100 hrs volunteering, I would have been given a certificate stating I was a Master Gardener. I have two BAs and an MA. I am allowed to use my titles because I paid for the classes and completed the requirements. I would never pay to be a Master Gardener, attend classes, take tests, volunteer and then not be allowed to use the title. I do not recall if that last bit is effect in the state of Alabama. if so, I will not pay money for their program.

  9. Who gets to decide how master gardeners should use their credentials? Garden bloggers or a council of individuals chosen to oversee the program? I vote for the council. If one is unhappy with the rules, get on the council and see what can be done to change them. Isn’t that the democratic way? Until then, please adhere to what you signed on for.

  10. For gosh sakes ‘chill’ everyone and get back to the garden. There are no rules. Not like it’s rocket surgery.

  11. I have Master Gardener training, but I too would not describe myself as a master at gardening. I took the course because although I grew up in a gardening family, the knowledge I had was limited and I wanted to know more.
    Frankly, I find the rule is not only tedious, but it can and often does cause problems with what should be an enjoyable relationship between university employees and volunteers.
    The rule is designed to protect a university from lawsuits. Period. It does not acknowledge the time and training the volunteers put in to attain this status — if it did, the university would find a better way to address this relationship, rather than using an outmoded rule that hurts more than it helps.

    If a person becomes an MG and wants to use the title to promote their career, what is wrong with that? The marketplace will address whether they are good or bad at their work.

    A person who goes through an MG program is an MG. They have paid for the material and volunteered their time in exchange for the training they receive.

    Why not tweak that agreement that reflects a more realistic position for both.
    Most likely a university attorney could come up with a legal document that would be binding.

    I choose not to tell people that I was an MG (I am not a gardener by profession) because I do not have the encyclopedic knowledge some of my fellow MG’s have. I garden for my own sanity! On occasion I will have a discussion with someone who knows I went through the program and think I have more knowledge than I do and I just explain that the training does not make me an expert. I usually hang onto the information that I need to operate within my own gardening space and no more. If I can direct them where to find information or relate my own experiences, which usually involve some disaster or another, people have to be content with that.

    Perhaps it is time to drop the MG designation.

    The challenge with that however, is that the MG program markets itself. Does one become an extension volunteer with a certificate in gardening? If anyone should be able to figure this out in a manner beneficial to both, I would think that intelligent people like university officials and gardeners willing to commit the time to an MG program, should be able to come up with something.

    There is far too much to know about gardening and I happily admit that I will remain forever illiterate on the subject while I keep trying to attain success in one area or another. I am the only person that needed three years to actually get a zucchini to grow!

  12. Wow ! Who knew that constituted a Master Gardener ! I figured 30 years of garden making made one a Master ! Such pretension has no place in my lovely garden !

  13. Shows the arrogance that has pervaded many Master Gardeners. A bus load on tour stopped in to our garden center one Saturday afternoon. WE LOVE TOURS and sharing garden knowledge with others.

    BUT……..many on the bus when asked “Welcome what can I help you with?” replied……..NOTHING! We are MASTER GARDENERS! and snooted their way around with noses held high.

    As I have said before the Master Garden/Extension Program has become a do what you will since being de-centralized. Ulster County NY has WONDERFUL HELPFUL MGs. They come tou our garden show with a table every year. HOWEVER. I WILL NOT ALLOW THEM IN DUTCHES COUNTY to have a table because of their poor knowledge and misinformation.

    A co-worker told a prospective employee, (personal friend of hers) that if you work here NO MASTER GARDENER S#!T……………………………….

    The TROLL

  14. I have found that the horticultural as a whole is such a big subject- think of all it encompasses- that there are many levels of knowledge, and many levels of ignorance. It is inevitable that someone will actually think they are a “Master” with a ten week course- when they are just beginners that have made a serious effort to reach out and be taught by someone. The program is set up to be for people who have free time on their hands (think bored house-wife) not your average professional who is working very hard to make ends meet. It would be nice if you could actually get some answers out of their “hotline” so we could refer people there to help out with the constant questions. It is weird to call them masters, but most people do not realize they are not- even my Mom who is a pretty masterful gardener thinks highly of the title (mostly because she does not know what it actually is). It is only someone who has had to deal with these “Masters” one on one in a professional setting that the holes in their knowledge become evident. In the nursery trade- where we answer tough questions all day long- we are skeptical of the Masters and their program- mostly because we can’t get a solid answer out of most of them! The public (mostly ignorant) thinks this is a great honor to be called “Master” and take it at face value never investigating what it really is. I think I will have to become one (in my sleep) so I can be on level with what the public thinks! You can bet I will never throw such a silly title around!!

  15. I have years of experience in the horticultural field as well as a degree. I also volunteer as a Master Gardener. I don’t use my Master Gardener title for commercial purposes, although occasionally others do when they introduce me. The primary reason I don’t is the title comes with a lot of baggage. A lot of people think the title is pretentious. I do include it my bio and resume just as I include my experience as a school board member, library volunteer, and other volunteer activities in the community if aplicable. I’ve volunteered hundreds and hundreds of hours for the program, writing articles and answering questions from the public. It also keeps me up to date with current research, and I have included practical aspects of the research in my work as well as for the program. The Master Gardeners is a good organization and I feel it needs more volunteers with a strong horticultural and commercial background and that’s why I volunteered. The program isn’t meant to be used as a degree or certificate program for career advancement. I don’t volunteer for the title but to give back to my local community.

  16. I’m not sure why people get so stirred up about the “Master Gardener” title. Cooperative Extension started the program years ago. I’m sure the people who named it had no idea the excitement it would cause down the road. For those that don’t know or forgot Master Gardeners are volunteers who are trained by local Cooperative Extension organizations. Cooperative Extension was designed to take SCIENCE-BASED information from the university and pass it on to everyone. It was mainly to help farmers and ranchers improve their agriculture operations. The Master Gardener program came along later as more and more people became home gardeners. It isn’t a cosmic conspiracies to denigrate other gardeners. They don’t want anyone to co-opt the title anymore than I’m sure the real Garden Ranters don’t want everyone out there suddenly putting up gardening websites using the word ranter. Cooperative Extension wants people to understand that when they talk to a “Master Gardener” the information is science-based, based on research done by the University. I have been in the Master Gardener program for 20 years. I have seen good programs and bad, it depends on the extension office in your area. If I put information in a resume, news article whatever about myself I say I am a volunteer for the Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program. I don’t claim I know everything, who does. Also if you go through the program you sign a contract saying you won’t use the name for commercial purposes. I think that is a reasonable expectation so they can protect their “brand”. (If you don’t understand branding, look up what Disney does to protect their brand!) And if you agree to the terms you should abid by them. Just saying …. cool-off everyone, Master Gardeners are not bad people!

  17. Wait, wait… a PhD or MD can give bad, disastrous, and even illegal advice, and the university he or she got trained at is not held responsible. I have never heard of a medical school that got sued because a doctor committed malpractice. But their lawyers say they are in legal danger from bad advice given by people who have taken a few weeks of training and done some volunteer work?

    Maybe the trouble is with the lawyers on this issue.

    Calling them “master gardeners” is another matter altogether. They shouldn’t be accused of egotism offhand, for the title wasn’t their decision to make. If they have an inflated ego, it will show in their behavior. MSCEs used to be called “Microsoft Certified System Engineer” for pity’s sake, but now they’re “MS Solution Experts” or something – they bowed under pressure from real engineers to stop inflating the completion of a few weeks of training.

    If they’re not allowed to use their title (in some states), how does a gardener find one? Is it some mystical secret journey (“The master’s name cannot be said, Grasshopper”) or perhaps a secret handshake of some sort (“Sorry, that is on a need to know basis”)?

    • I am enjoying this conversation.
      I have been gardening since i was at least 8. And like the saying goes the older I get the less I know.
      Gardening is a passion and now my trade. My traditional studies are in art and design. I asked my husband to take the MG training to get a general background in gardening as his background was in construction supervision and his degree in philosophy and history. Then we started a landscaping service.
      I have always thought the name of the MG program was an obstacle and misleading.
      Favorite comment “There is only one master gardener,” truly who can ever be a master of anything in life. Life is a journey and titles are often labels that confine us rather than define us.
      I spend at least two hours each day studying, reading and exposing myself to new information on plants, art, design theory. Blogs life Garden Rants is a great source of new information and ideas. That said I learn the most through observation and trial and error. I drive the city, walk the gardens, share with friend and observe! The plants are my teachers and in them I am in awe!
      I truly believe if you do good work and you share your knowledge you will be successful in the field of gardening.
      Happy Gardening!!!

  18. If there is a Master Gardener program in your area they will be found at the closest Cooperative Extension Office. If you google (Your state or county) Cooperative Extension” you should be able to find the closest office to you. The program is designed to be very local but there may not an office in your area. Cooperative Extension is an organization that is cooperative program between the state’s land grant university, and local counties usually.

  19. Could I just point out that the people who go through the MG program are NOT the ones who created the title of Master Gardener? Not our idea – we’re stuck with the title that someone else dreamed up long ago. Chill!

  20. Okay. Let’s do this logically and rationally (and we’re not going to argue about the appropriateness of the name). The Master Gardener program was started in Washington State. Here’s a link to the history: http://mastergardener.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/MasterGardenerProgramHistoryrev2009.8.pdf?9d7bd4.

    The philosophy of the program as it was initiated was this: “This title is to be used only for volunteers who are certified in the WSU Extension MG program
    and performing unpaid educational and public service as an active MG.” Notice the word “unpaid.” And the phrase “public service.”

    More specifically:

    “Use of Master Gardener Title: WSU Extension MGs should wear their name badges whenever they are engaged in MG activities. They should not wear or use the MG title to endorse a product or place of business. Volunteers may list their WSU Extension MG training and experience as qualifications when applying for a job. However, they may not give the appearance of being a WSU Extension MG at their place of employment. Likewise, when volunteering in MG activities, volunteers may not wear apparel imprinted with nursery or garden center logos, or with lawn and garden service or other gardening business-related trademarks.”

    So, in a nutshell, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you “like the rule.” The Master Gardener designation is an acknowledgement of one’s accomplishments in reaching a certain degree of expertise in the field of home gardening. It means one is qualified to serve as an *unpaid* university volunteer in disseminating practical information to home gardeners. It wasn’t meant to pad one’s resume or paycheck. And if it was, I (and other Extension specialists) certainly wouldn’t be donating our time as educators to people looking to make an extra buck by shamelessly misusing this title.

    If you don’t like the rule, then start your own program.

  21. Here’s what that section of my profile now states: “I’m a life-long organic gardener with extensive experience in ornamental and vegetable gardening, and enjoy giving back to my community through volunteer work sharing my passion for gardening with others.” I took out the reference to volunteering my time as a Master Gardener after Monica contacted me.

    Before I listed myself in the Garden Coach Directory I ran this by the Master Gardener coordinator to make sure I wasn’t violating the rules. She said it was fine. I made it clear I was engaging in volunteer service, and I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with mentioning volunteer activities that are in line with one’s line of work, including volunteering as a Master Gardener.

    Yeah, I agree – Chill.

  22. It’s my experience that most people don’t know what the term “master gardener” really means. Many times, I have been introduced as a master gardener and have felt the need to explain that I learned through a different route; a horticultural school rather than the extension program, when all they meant was that I know a lot more than they do.
    Actually, the average person has no idea what terms like “landscape architect” or “garden designer” mean. They don’t care, either.

    • Me too! I cringe when I’m introduced as a “master gardener.” I studied horticulture and I know more about plants than anyone I’ve talked with at several local community gardens, but I don’t consider myself to be a “master.”

  23. Well, unfortunately it looks like this thread has been overrun by the whole “is “master gardener” a valid title” discussion. However, that’s not what is at issue here.

    As co-admin of the garden coach website, I think Monica’s request towards Susan was misdirected. That website is in wiki format. It is created and edited by the members of the site. It is a site “owned” by the garden coaches. Thus, it is not our responsibility, or inclination, to remove content unless it includes profanity or spam. We are also not the “master gardener” police. We don’t monitor the rules of the hundreds of possible programs, degrees and certifications that exist in the hort world, then check each entry for accuracy. This is a FREE site, people.

    Second, I am currently in a Master Gardener course here in Chicago. (Hopefully, I won’t be asked to remove that statement from this comment.) There is nothing free about these courses. I paid $300 for my education. I’d say it’s equivalent to a couple of community college classes, in terms of price and educational value. I am enjoying my experience and look forward to completing it.

    The rule about Master Gardeners not being able to use that designation on their marketing materials is an antiquated one, IMHO. I don’t know any other volunteer-based organization that prohibits mention on materials. It feels a bit like I am joining the Masons or some other group with a secret handshake. Did I know this when I applied? Sure. Does that mean I agree with it? Nope. And since this is America, I get to both participate in a program AND disagree with some of its tenets.

    As for the rest of the conversation about the Master Gardener title, come on people, let it go. It’s not like any MG’s out there are making thousands of dollars usurping the income of landscape designers and garden centers. Jeez. You’d think that we were walking around calling ourselves the President of Horticulture University or something. Listen, NOBODY’s getting rich from being called a Master Gardener.

    So much fuss about something that has so little impact in the whole scope of things.

    • Thanks for explaining how the Wet Paint coaching directory works and the fact that neither of us volunteered to police other coaches – yikes!

      And ditto to the idea that the MG rule about mentioning MG status is outdated. Coaches aren’t getting rich; they’re not even making a living at it.

      • “Yikes” indeed. Perhaps, then, the whole issue could have been addressed with back and forth emails to Monica to clarify, and addressed accordingly. The “no endorsement” rule, as I understand it, is a University Extension one, not an MG one, per se. MG’s are simply unpaid volunteer support staff for Extension Educators, and thus the rule extends to them. I’m sure there are a lot of Extension Educators who would love to augment their salaried income with outside speaking engagements, consulting fees to high end clients, etc., but are prohibited, in order to maintain the objectivity and neutrality of their respective Land Grant Universities. That doesn’t mean they can’t write books, get travel reimbursement, and modest honorariums for their extra efforts, however, but it’s done under careful rules that protect the Land Grant University brand. And of course, each state has the authority to implement its MG program, tailored to its circumstances. It is not a federally run program that the states then implement.

    • Antiquated or otherwise, it’s the rule. If you don’t like it, then work with the system. Talk to your county MG coordinator, state coordinator, etc. Get them talking about it on a national level, along with the university faculty who give their time to educating MGs.

      Do I think the rule will change? No. Because the reason it’s there is that universities don’t *donate* their resources for private gain. This is not just any volunteer program – it’s one that’s funded by land grant universities using state tax dollars. Yes, you pay for your training, but do you think your $300 (or so) pays for all the faculty and staff time? MGs get training from university faculty who *choose* to use their time that way.

      I don’t donate my time to people in the private sector – I ask them to contribute $$ to my educational program. In fact, many MG programs DO offer their courses to people in the profession who are looking for continuing education credits (when they have room for extra people). But professionals pay substantially more for it than the MG volunteers do.

  24. Linda Chalker-Scott, I DID talk to the coordinator, and gave her the exact wording I wanted to use on my listing. She said it was fine. Monica, however, is higher-level and she clearly has a different opinion. For the record the coordinator is no longer there (budget cuts two or three years ago. Just recently a new, part-time coordinator was assigned to our unit.)

    Also for the record in addition to contacting Susan, Monica also contacted me directly.

    Not that a MG certificate is the same as a college degree but all public schools also receive tax dollars and no one attending one is paying the full cost of their education. So does that mean I can’t put my degree on my resume? How about my high school diploma? After all, I didn’t pay the full cost of them either. I’m sorry but that argument just doesn’t hold any water with me.

    I should not have to keep ‘secret’ the fact that I volunteer my time with Extension as a MG. I thought I was following the rules. I CHECKED.

    I’m a private person and I don’t need this sh*t. If I’d known this would be a problem and I’d be subjected to this kind of scrutiny I would have taken this to a higher level but I did not believe I was breaking any rules based on the feedback I received from the local coordinator.

    I DID work with the system. We see how well that worked a few years later. Frankly, this whole thing has got me upset enough that as much as I have enjoyed my years as a MG, I’m not sure I want to continue anymore.

    • Just shows the problems with bureaucracy. Extension in New York used to be a wonderful thing. But since has been ruined by budget cuts and elitism.

      The TROLL

    • I understand your frustration, Linda. You did the right thing to check with your local coordinator. Got permission to proceed, and then were overruled by someone higher up in the chain. You did your due diligence, and were seemingly punished for it down the pike. There are, however, mistaken understandings of the Master Gardener Program being expressed here about what the Master Gardener program is, and more importantly, what it is not, that I want to address.

      The Master Gardener program is NOT a substitute for, nor an augmentation of, any professional, horticulture, arborist, or landscape design certification or credentialing. There are professional associations for that, and their coursework is usually more expensive, and specifically designed for the dictates of that profession, than any MG program, regardless of the overlap in subject matter. We have in our MG program here in one, rural, small (estimated population of 150,000) county in Pennsylvania, MG’s who are also landscape designers, retired USDA foresters, nationally recognized rosarians, National Arboretum volunteers, and self-employed ISA certified arborists and landscape professionals, who freely give of their time and talents to the MG program, and we welcome and appreciate (greatly) their efforts. We also have employees of local Garden Centers or Nurseries, and (gasp!) Lowe’s, who also give of their time and talents to the program, not to mention the bulk of our members who are simply gardening enthusiasts/hobbyists, like myself, willing to share their learned, as well as experienced, knowledge of gardening, with the rest of the public, under the aegis of the MG program.

      There is no problem, from what I understand, including your Master Gardener experience on a resume, in order to increase your chance of gaining employment in the industry, so long as the employer understands that there can be no promotion of your MG status in marketing the business, or in the selling of particular products. It has nothing to do with liability. Self-employment is somewhat of a gray area, since the employer and employee are the same person. Monica interpreted that gray area in a way that her sense of due diligence dictated, and she took appropriate steps to address. And since she’s the state final authority on the issue, the matter is closed. You (and Susan and other rant commenters) may disagree with that interpretation, but that’s the equivalent of disagreeing with the boss’s interpretation of company policy for dress codes, to reduce the argument to the absurdum level. Dr. Chalker-Scott’s recommendation to work within the system, was directed at working within the system to change the dress code (with dubious chance of success), not to comment on the procedures taken to comply by dressing properly according to the current rules. Ranters who think the policy is dumb have every right to express that opinion, regardless of how dumb it makes them sound to people informed about the subject.

      The Master Gardener Program has a training and continuing education component, to give volunteers the up-to-date information necessary to conduct Land Grant University outreach to the general public in the area of consumer horticulture. Period. It makes no claims otherwise. It also cannot jeopardize the Land Grant University status as objective, neutral, providers of research-based information, so that constraint extends to the Master Gardener volunteer support staff, and has been a part of the program since its inception, regardless of budget or bureaucracy – then, or now. Frankly, I would find it difficult in some cases, to reconcile being a professional landscaper, responding to client requirements and demands who are paying me, and my Master Gardener training, when it conflicts with the “best interests of the plant” priority, which is the focus of Extension outreach.

      The MG’s in our program who are also paid professionals in the industry, appear easily able to separate the two, knowing when they are acting as MG’s and supporting Extension, and when they are responding to client demands, even when it conflicts with their training, keeping that perspective clear. I wish you luck in being able to do the same.

      And I hope this information helps clarify the situation for others reading. Master Gardeners, as volunteer Extension support staff, are always looking for educational moments. It’s our mission.

  25. In this area, we’re supposed to refer to ourselves as “Extension Master Gardeners”…all together. I’d get more uppity about what I and my colleagues do and don’t know if some “real” horticulturists in neighboring cities weren’t ignoring the fact that they’re spreading Japanese Beetles to the unknowing public west of them.

  26. For heavens same, we are master gardeners in name only. We took classes and passed some tests. Then we became members in a program called ‘master gardeners’, hence, we became master gardeners because of the name of the group. We took the course with certain regulations in place. If we did not agree we did not have to sign up. The program could have been called senior gardeners. We would then have been called senior gardeners. As any ad agency will tell you, success is mostly in a name. U of I chose a good one.

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